The Education of Little Tree tells of a boy orphaned very young, who is adopted by his Cherokee grandmother and half-Cherokee grandfather in the Appalachian mountains of Tennessee during the Great Depression. "Little Tree" as his grandparents call him is shown how to hunt and survive in the mountains, to respect nature in the Cherokee Way, taking only what is needed, leaving the rest for nature to run its course. Little Tree also learns the often callous ways of white businessmen and tax collectors, and how Granpa, in hilarious vignettes, scares them away from his illegal attempts to enter the cash economy. Granma teaches Little Tree the joys of reading and education. But when Little Tree is taken away by whites for schooling, we learn of the cruelty meted out to Indian children in an attempt to assimilate them and of Little Tree's perception of the Anglo world and how it differs from the Cherokee Way. A classic of its era, and an enduring book for all ages, The Education of Little Tree has now been redesigned for this twenty-fifth anniversary edition.
Original publication date
Indeed, a wonderful book, though it was originally falsely claimed to be an autobiograph and I never like authors deceiving their public. Still, the writing is fabulous!
This is the growth story of an orphaned Cherokee boy raised by his grandparents. The appreciation of nature and the unhurried lifestyle of the these three gives gives the book a wonderful ambiance in which I like to bask for as long as I can. The encounters Little Tree has with the surrounding world -Christians and such- always made me either laugh or blink tears from my eyes but never left me cold.
I know the author's story...he's not Cherokee at all...in fact, he's a racist. I still like the story. But the thing that got me was that in the 1930s, I'm supposed to believe that a 9 year old boy rode off into the sunset by himself? Nine years old? Isn't that how old Little Tree is by the end? And he just finds a horse somewhere and heads out west? That I don't believe it. I can't really think of any other way to end the book...but I certainly don't believe this ending. How would ANYONE have EVER believed this was a TRUE STORY? Maybe I just don't understand the 1930s...but really?! Nine?!
I have read this book several times in my life, first as a young child on a trip from California. I cry every time I read it, but my tears are mostly in wonder at the ability of the writer to touch my heart. I laughed at the grandparents casual life and strong love. The writer portrays the life of Little Tree and his grandparents in a way that makes me want to live in the mountains like he did. I come away each time I read this book with a greater appreciation for nature and a profound sadness for the cruelty of humans to their fellowman.
In a classroom, this book could be used to provoke discussions about racism among all peoples. The class could discuss the Cherokee nation and study their movements and the reasons for their moving. The history of the United States' dealings with the Native American peoples could be studied. In Oklahoma, a field trip could be planned to Talequah to see the street signs in Cherokee.
Nevertheless, it's a very well-written book. I gather that some of the details of Little Tree's life and Cherokee customs are not based on reality, but pure fiction; that would perhaps upset people from this background, but for me it was a delightful insight into a world I knew nothing about.
Moreoever, the book is very pro-Cherokee, and positive about Little Tree's experiences, educational and otherwise. White men are shown to be bigoted and legalistic, and Little Tree's brief foray into a boarding school is heart-breaking.
I can only assume that the author had repented of his former beliefs when he wrote it. Some critics consider the language offensive - it's written in a distinctive style, almost as if in five-year-old language at times. But for me, it added to the realism of the story.
All in all, I thought it a lovely book.
Involving read, very enjoyable, and worth a reread in the future. Recommended.